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Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) Will Be Hoping To Turn Its Returns On Capital Around

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Ignoring the stock price of a company, what are the underlying trends that tell us a business is past the growth phase? Typically, we'll see the trend of both return on capital employed (ROCE) declining and this usually coincides with a decreasing amount of capital employed. Basically the company is earning less on its investments and it is also reducing its total assets. On that note, looking into Kohl's (NYSE:KSS), we weren't too upbeat about how things were going.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

For those who don't know, ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. To calculate this metric for Kohl's, this is the formula:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

0.065 = US$766m ÷ (US$15b - US$2.9b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to May 2021).

Thus, Kohl's has an ROCE of 6.5%. In absolute terms, that's a low return and it also under-performs the Multiline Retail industry average of 15%.

See our latest analysis for Kohl's

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In the above chart we have measured Kohl's' prior ROCE against its prior performance, but the future is arguably more important. If you're interested, you can view the analysts predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

What Does the ROCE Trend For Kohl's Tell Us?

In terms of Kohl's' historical ROCE movements, the trend doesn't inspire confidence. About five years ago, returns on capital were 14%, however they're now substantially lower than that as we saw above. And on the capital employed front, the business is utilizing roughly the same amount of capital as it was back then. This combination can be indicative of a mature business that still has areas to deploy capital, but the returns received aren't as high due potentially to new competition or smaller margins. If these trends continue, we wouldn't expect Kohl's to turn into a multi-bagger.

The Bottom Line

All in all, the lower returns from the same amount of capital employed aren't exactly signs of a compounding machine. However the stock has delivered a 85% return to shareholders over the last five years, so investors might be expecting the trends to turn around. Regardless, we don't feel too comfortable with the fundamentals so we'd be steering clear of this stock for now.

One more thing to note, we've identified 2 warning signs with Kohl's and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

While Kohl's may not currently earn the highest returns, we've compiled a list of companies that currently earn more than 25% return on equity. Check out this free list here.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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